Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (Russian: Бори́с Никола́евич Е́льцин, IPA: [bɐˈrʲis nʲɪkɐˈlaɪvʲɪtɕ ˈjelʲtsɨn] (listen); 1 February 1931 – 23 April 2007) was a Soviet and Russian politician who served as the first president of the Russian Federation from 1991 to 1999. A member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1961 to 1990, he later stood as a political independent, during which time he was ideologically aligned with liberalism and Russian nationalism.
Born in Butka, Sverdlovsk Oblast to a peasant family, Yeltsin grew up in Kazan. After studying at the Ural State Technical University, he worked in construction. Joining the Communist Party, which governed the Soviet Union as a one-party state according to Marxist-Leninist doctrine, he rose through its ranks and in 1976 became First Secretary of the party’s Sverdlovsk Oblast committee. Initially a supporter of the perestroika reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Yeltsin later criticised them as being too moderate, calling for a transition to a multi-party representative democracy. In 1987 he was the first person to resign from the party’s governing Politburo, establishing his popularity as an anti-establishment figure. In 1990, he was elected chair of the Russian Supreme Soviet and in 1991 was elected president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Allying with various non-Russian nationalist leaders, he was instrumental in the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union in December that year, at which the RSFSR became the Russian Federation, an independent state. Yeltsin remained in office as president and was reelected in the 1996 election, although critics claimed pervasive electoral corruption.
Yeltsin transformed Russia’s state socialist economy into a capitalist market economy by implementing economic shock therapy, market exchange rate of the ruble, nationwide privatization, and lifting of price controls. Economic collapse and inflation ensued. Amid the economic shift, a small number of oligarchs obtained a majority of the national property and wealth, while international monopolies came to dominate the market. During the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, Yeltsin ordered the unconstitutional dissolution of the Supreme Soviet parliament, which responded by attempting to remove him from office. In October 1993, troops loyal to Yeltsin stopped an armed uprising outside of the parliament building; he then introduced a new constitution. Secessionist sentiment in the Russian Caucasus led to the First Chechen War, War of Dagestan, and Second Chechen War between 1994 and 1999. Internationally, Yeltsin promoted renewed collaboration with Europe and signed arms control agreements with the United States. Amid growing internal pressure, in 1999 he resigned and was succeeded by his chosen successor, former Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Out of office, he kept a low profile and was later given a state funeral.
Yeltsin was a controversial figure. Domestically he was highly popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, although his reputation was damaged by the economic and political crises of his presidency and he left office widely unpopular with the Russian population. He received praise for his role in dismantling the Soviet Union, transforming Russia into a representative democracy, and introducing new political, economic, and cultural freedoms to the country. Conversely, he was accused of economic mismanagement, overseeing a massive growth in inequality and corruption, and of undermining Russia’s standing as a major world power.